Ahead of the Oscars — probably ABC’s crown jewel of special-events programming — ABC has aired lots of clever spots featuring that year’s host.
Those have included last year’s campaign starring Jimmy Kimmel, who fretted about that famous La La Land/Moonlight mistake with his therapist. That turned out to be none other than Warren Beatty — who was on stage when Faye Dunaway read out the wrong name for best picture, only to later be corrected by La La Land’s gracious executive producer, Jordan Horowitz, who then called Moonlight on stage to accept the best-picture statue.
In ABC’s 2017 Oscars campaign, when Kimmel was happily unburdened by either Moonlight or La La Land, he reviewed the road to winning an Oscar, which includes first working as a waiter and then going to lots of auditions before finally landing that one big role
In 2014, that year’s host, Ellen DeGeneres, staged a giant production of 300 dancers all strutting to Fitz and the Tantrums’ “The Walker” before she ever even stepped on the Oscar stage.
But this year, after Kevin Hart dropped out as host due to controversy over homophobic tweets he had posted years ago, ABC and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences decided to go hostless. It’s not the way audiences are used to watching the Oscars, but ABC has been open to the challenge.
While it seemed that having no host might cause the network to have a marketing problem, instead ABC pivoted toward what is happening on the big night. For example, the show is going to open with Adam Lambert and Queen performing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” so ABC turned that into a promo, using clips from the Oscar-nominated movie of the same name.
In another spot, ABC interspersed celebrity comments from the likes of Oscar nominee Amy Adams, Oscar winner Barry Jenkins and everything-but-an-Oscar winner Lin-Manuel Miranda on “why they watch” the big show to actual historic moments from previous programs.
“We worked with the Academy on this concept, ‘Why I Watch,’” Rebecca Daugherty, executive vice president of marketing for ABC, told Adweek. “They had done a bunch of celebrity interviews, with some really well-known people, talking about why they watch the Oscars. So we had that great content early on that we used in some of the earlier promotion.”
The Oscars have faced some other struggles this year, having decided to remove four technical categories from the main telecast and then putting them back in after facing protests. And declining ratings are a problem for awards shows across the board. Last year, with The Shape of Water winning best picture, ratings fell to their lowest level ever, dropping 20 percent with 26.5 million people tuning into the live telecast.
Still, ABC has sold out the broadcast, which is expected to run three hours, with spots costing as much as $2.6 million a 30-second pop, and tune-in is still expected to be in the tens of millions. In this fragmented viewing environment, that has to be considered a win.
The 91st annual Academy Awards airs Sunday, Feb. 24, at 8 ET/5 PT on ABC.
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